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Henn becomes part of Goodhue County history

Char Henn (left) and parents Lora and Harold Henn laugh while telling stories at a lunchtime award ceremony last Friday. Char Henn was named the Goodhue County Editorial Association’s 2013 Citizen of the Year for more than two decades of work at the Goodhue County Historical Society. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)

When Char Henn of Red Wing walked into Fiesta Mexicana restaurant last Friday, she thought she would be meeting friends for a monthly lunch date. Instead she found a crowd of more than a dozen people sitting at a table beckoning her over.

“What is this?” Henn said.

Along with family and friends, the group included journalists and members of the Goodhue County Editorial Association. They were there to present Henn with their 2013 Citizen of the Year award.

The title was in recognition of Henn’s contribution to the Goodhue County Historical Society and museum. She stepped down as director of the society in July after more than 20 years of involvement.

“This is a real surprise,” Henn said, adding that she was “humbled” to receive the award.

Henn started working with the GCHS as an archivist in 1991 after graduating with a master’s degree in history from Northern Illinois University. She became the curator in 1993 and was named interim director in 1999.

“Char has spent more than two decades as steward of Goodhue County’s history,” Republican Eagle Editor Anne Jacobson said at the start of the award presentation.

During Henn’s tenure, GCHS started its township exhibit series; put up ghost town signs describing local sites of historic significance; brought national exhibits to the county; and fostered cooperation between the society and other historical organizations in the area.

Former GCHS Board member Jim Edlund praised Henn for taking charge of the History Center and for “her vision of what became a county without borders.”

“I think that enhanced the stabilities, direction and success of the History Center that we enjoy today,” Edlund said.

Seated next to Henn were parents Harold and Lora Henn and her three sisters, all of whom expressed how proud they are of her accomplishments.

“It’s a pleasure watching her do her job and be who she is,” her father said.

Henn said she couldn’t have done it without help, including “great staff, wonderful volunteers” and a “familial atmosphere” at the GCHS.

She went on to discuss the impact of technology on recording history, stressing the importance of tangible artifacts that can be appreciated without projectors or additional equipment.

“It has to be something you can see and interact with,” Henn said.

As an example, she described the writings of Lewis Johnson, a Danish immigrant and farmer from outside Belvidere Township. From 1862 to 1935, Johnson kept a detailed record of his life, from births and deaths to daily purchases at the store. 

“Everything got in there,” Henn said. “And we’re missing that now because people aren’t doing diaries.”

With such a passion for history, Henn won’t be getting out of the field any time soon. She said that she hopes to continue doing local freelance work moving forward.

“The day is coming rapidly where none of us will be here anymore, but we will be remembered because of people like Char Henn,” Edlund said.

“And thanks to this (award),” sister Ruth Kuehni added, “history will remember Char Henn.”

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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